Project management software review: LiquidPlanner
If you haven’t heard of LiquidPlanner, it’s essentially a down-to-earth approach to scheduling and project management. The magic is in its planning philosophy: scheduling tasks based on priority, not deadlines. In addition, it allows you to estimate using ranges, capturing uncertainty in your projects.
I work for a small web agency called Clickspace Interactive that borders between online marketing and software development. We’ve created both small restaurant websites and huge inventory engines with complex back-end systems. Part of my job is estimating/planning projects, managing the production team, pushing work forward, and identifying bottlenecks and other issues that cause stalls. I deal with anywhere from 7-15 projects at any given time, and the sheer volume of information required to manage these things is often overwhelming.
LiquidPlanner is so far the only tool that has successfully allowed me to juggle such a large workload. While other systems do work, LiquidPlanner has so far been the easiest to use, most intuitive, and has generally been really well received by the team. What is actually sometimes more important than the software itself is the need for the entire team to get on board with the software. LiquidPlanner brings us and our files together in one place, everyone shares the responsibility for updating the system. My role now pivots around supporting the team, rather than distributing information.
With so much chaos, I’ve always struggled with keeping the schedule accurate. With previous systems, I’d go through my plans each morning, update deadlines, and make sure all my projects were ‘green’d up’, which was a huge time sink. The thing that sets LiquidPlanner apart is how it handles schedules. As I mentioned above, it schedules work based on priority. The reason why this is so important is twofold.
First, it makes my life a lot easier when it comes to scheduling. I only need to focus on loading tasks and moving the most important stuff to the top (all done through an easy drag and drop interface). LiquidPlanner does the rest, re-sorting the schedule with each change and providing me with feedback of the impact of my decisions. I can then pass this information to the sales team and easily communicate our current workload and capacity.
Second, it takes out the confusion of what people should be working on. This approach has saved us a lot of time in meetings. Everyone already knows what to do so we focus on vital issues like roadblocks.
The other important feature is ranged estimates. Each task accepts a best case and worst case estimate. Not only does this help to capture uncertainty for tasks with high risk, it also generates some pretty unique reports that reveal important insight about optimistic and pessimistic deadlines. Again, this has been useful when managing clients, it’s easier to work with ranges rather than specific dates as other things always come up.
One feature that was lacking was strong reporting capabilities. This has actually been addressed in the last version of LiquidPlanner with the new report builder. So far it has been a much welcome addition. It gives me extra control over data and keeps other departments (billing) happy as everyone can pull out specifics. I can also gauge workload and total capacity for each department better than before.
Outside of the new analytics tab, LiquidPlanner has other common reports that I find really helpful. As an example, the ‘Work Remaining’ (Burndown Chart) is really helpful when trying to visually communicate completion dates to a client.
The system’s only major weakness now is billing. While LiquidPlanner does have timesheets and rate sheets, I find the whole process is a little clunky. We end up scraping project hours and calculating costs outside of the system.
Overall this is the most intuitive system I’ve used. I really like that LiquidPlanner has a set philosophy behind their product. Other systems make you ‘figure it out’ where Liquid Planner gives you the tools to be successful from the start, which I think is a great bonus for new project managers. It’s still flexible enough for those that need a custom process.
Product support is also outstanding. I know my feature requests always get heard, and my questions answered by real humans. I’d recommend LiquidPlanner to teams that need to measure long term impact, or generally work with a lot of uncertainty—ultimately I urge anyone to try this product, success is addictive!
For more information on LiquidPlanner, see www.liquidplanner.com.